Ancient City of Bosra
Since 1980 • Cultural
Bosra, once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia, was an important stopover on the ancient caravan route to Mecca. A magnificent 2nd-century Roman theatre, early Christian ruins and several mosques are found within its great walls.
Bosra is associated with important events in the history of ideas and beliefs: according to tradition its bishop took part in the Council of Antioch, while the Prophet Muhammad came there twice and, at the time of his first visit, is said to have learned the precepts of Christianity from a Nestorian monk named Bahira. The monuments built in different times make Bosra a city of extreme rarity, of universal importance and of unique aesthetic value
The old city of Bosra was the northern capital of the Nabataean kingdom of the Roman province of Arabia, referred to in the Bible, in AD 106. It was successively an important religious metropolis of the Byzantine Empire and a caravan centre, in the role of a large frontier market on the pilgrim route to Mecca.The square minarets are without doubt the oldest still standing in the whole of Islam. The significance of the city as an important stop on the way to Mecca and the prosperity that this brought lasted until the 17th century. By then the region was becoming unsafe and pilgrims began to take a less dangerous route further west.
Of the city which once counted 80,000 inhabitants, there remains today only a village of striking beauty, settled among the ruins. The 2nd century Roman theatre, probably built under Trajan, is the only monument of this type with its upper gallery in the form of a covered portico that has been integrally preserved. This unique monument, enclosed by the walls and towers of a splendid citadel fortified between 481 and 1231, alone would suffice for the glory of Bosra. From outside it could be an Arab fortress similar to many others. On a semi-circular front, great square towers built from enormous blocks of stone (some of the corner ones are more than 5 m high) project from the blind ramparts. A deep ditch, the first line of defence, is crossed on a six-arched bridge. An iron-bound gate, a series of vaulted rooms, twisting passages, rampart walks, and all kinds of defensive works give an impression of the military quality of the castle, but there is no preparation for the discovery that right at its heart lies a splendid ancient theatre.
The two structures, both equally fine, are closely integrated into one another. The 13th-century enclosing wall completely encircles the cavea of the theatre. When the Arabs entered Bosra they immediately blocked all the doors and openings of the ancient theatre with thick walls, thus transforming it into an easily defensible citadel. But the new threats posed by the Crusaders rendered these early defences inadequate; so in the mid-11th century three towers were built, jutting out from the Roman building; nine other larger ones followed between 1202 and 1251. Later accretions overlaid the interior of the theatre and its ranges of seats, but at the same time preserved them. This interior has now been fully uncovered and restored in its entire majestic entirety by the Department of Antiquities, which began its work here shortly after Syria became independent.
There is room for 15,000 spectators to face a stage 45 m long and 8.5 m deep, and a stage wall whose base is emphasized by a series of Corinthian columns. Many details of its architecture proclaim the perfection of its construction and the concern of its 2nd-century builders for the comfort of the audience. Furthermore, sources reveal that the whole theatre was draped with silk hangings that protected audiences from both summer sun and winter rain. Perfumed water was also evaporated in the theatre - the ultimate touch of style and refinement.
In Bosra, Nabatean and Roman monuments, Christian churches, mosques and madrasas come together, all equally celebrated: they are to be found within the half-ruined enceinte of the city. The basilica of the martyrs Sergios, Bacchos and Leontios, the cathedral of Bosra, was completed in 513 by Archbishop Julianus. The structure of this monument, a central plan with eastern apses flanked by two sacristies, exerted a decisive influence on the evolution of Christian architectural forms, and to a certain extent on Islamic forms as well. The Mosque of Omar, restored in 1950, is one of the rare constructions of the 1st century of the Hegira preserved in Syria. The Jami' Mabrak an-Naqua madrasa is one of the oldest and most celebrated of Islam.